How Will YOU Help Move Altadena's Retail Forward?

Be a part of the solution to fixing our community's retail climate.

Over the past year, I've read article after article and comment after comment on Patch regarding the retail landscape in Altadena. It's a numbing reminder that 99 percent of us believe that retail should and could be better and/or different than it now is. We've all read or commented that there are too many of "this" type of business and not enough of "that" kind of business.

I had never heard of Altadena before moving here 9 years ago. I had lived mostly behind the Orange Curtain.  I quickly learned that things are "different" up here.  I learned what it meant to live in an unincorporated town;  you had to fight (maybe push hard is a better phrase) for what you wanted. While an important customer, Altadena isn't always at the top of the priority list when it comes to county services. Let's face it, when you're a city, your residents & businesses are the #1 priority. When you're one of 140+ unincorporated areas, (see http://ceo.lacounty.gov/forms/Unincorp%20Alpha%20Web.pdf for the list) you have a lot of company clamoring for attention.

A couple of years ago, I became a Director on the Altadena Chamber of Commerce. At the time, I thought it would be a good networking group. And it was. I met new people via meetings and mixers. But, I felt something was missing. I realized there was a problem with the retail climate in town. Shops were closing, more non-retail locations were coming into town. It became a perfect storm to send residents out of town to spend their dollars. I began to think that being a Director on the Chamber should mean more than networking; it should mean working to improve the business climate in town. I wanted to help be part of a solution and not someone who just has ideas but doesn't act on them.

It was also about this time I began to wonder who in town was going to start doing something. We don't have a city manager, mayor, permit office etc. to help us. Heck, our economic enterprise zone program had run out before many in town even knew we had one! I started reading Patch articles about how Altadena doesn't have enough retail, the wrong mix of retail, run down looking businesses, grocery stores with poorly planning parking lots, a grocery store with no service/meat/deli department and so on. We all read that "we" should have this & that and "they" should do more for us.

What I don't often read about is anyone currently doing anything to change the retail climate. I have read about how "this & that" didn't work in the past. I've read countless times about how we need/want a Trader Joe's (as if wishing for one will make it magically appear), another coffee house, more restaurants and more parking.  WHO is doing anything to make this happen? Once in a while, a reader comments that they've made a call to county (usually involving a permit related issue) but mostly, we seem to drift rudderless without any clear direction, plan or idea how to make something positive happen. I know many in the past have taken active roles (thank you!) but now I see a lot of "shoulda, coulda, woulda".

It's time again for Altadena citizens and businesses to be the spark plug that makes "it" happen. Make a phone call to the headquarters of a store you want to see it in town. You don't like the way Rite Aid looks? Call their headquarters, call the property management company. Share with us what they say. Start a letter writing campaign. Find people to invest in a restaurant. Find a niche retail need and fill it. We need to stop looking for others to fix things and look to ourselves for solutions. Become (more) involved.

So, am I walking the talk? I'm trying....I got off my rear a few months back and called Trader Joe's headquarters and spoke with their real estate/site location department. I asked if TJ's would consider Altadena. I was told that they require a site of 1.5 acres on which to build or a certain size existing pad (the site next to Rite Aid is too small). We discussed the return on investment since TJ's has 3 locations in Pasadena and one in La Canada. Would a TJ's in Altadena be successful? To us, likely. To TJ's, maybe not since shoppers may merely be switching from the other 4 nearby locations. I emailed Fresh N Easy. Haven't heard back. I've spoken with our local Ralph's store director and invited her to a future chamber meeting. I think it makes sense for them to re-invest in our community. They know they're not getting as many of our dollars as they'd like until they expand.

The Altadena Chamber of Commerce is trying to make things happen. We've traditionally been a small group, but even as such, we're getting things done around town!  Our purpose is to help small businesses and increase commerce in Altadena. Last year the Chamber was instrumental in securing the permit for and sponsoring Webster's Fancy Food Truck Friday events; we started the Shop Altadena Coupon page to promote local businesses and launched a new, user-friendly website.

We helped put together a very important shopping survey and recently named our first ever Altadena Business Of the Year.

One of our most successful recent efforts to help local businesses was to spearhead a presentation with LA County Public Works and Metro Transportation Authority to relocate the bus layover behind El Patron (north side of Fontanet Way). The bus layover was moved, the curb is now re-painted and retail businesses in that general area now enjoy 5-6 more parking spaces!

We're attending local economic trade shows and learning what other groups are doing to help local businesses survive & thrive. The Chamber has recently voted to open our meetings to the general public. We meet at noon, first Tuesday of each month at the Community Center (sorry for the late notice for this months' meeting).

We invite you to come, listen to us and we'll listen to you. Bring your ideas, concerns and enthusiasm to the meeting and help better our business climate. Maybe you'll get pumped up enough to join the Chamber and/or volunteer to help out on some of our committees.

Remember, if you don't stand up for Altadena, who will?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Patrick Reagan February 28, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Another option is to join the hundreds of us who aren't waiting for a big corp. but instead are building our own grocery store. The Arroyo Food Cooperative has more than 400 investors, lots of donated store fixtures, an elected board of directors and dozens of enthusiastic volunteers. We've studied the experiences of other co-ops who have successfully opened and operated around the country. We're starting to look seriously at several possible locations in Altadena and are nearly ready to submit final documents to begin taking in loans. You can read more on our website. While there download our Product Sourcing Guidelines to get an idea of what will be on our shelves. Our old business plan is there also. A revised version will be posted once we pick a location. Our goal is not only to become the successful local version of TJs but to support local sources of food - which a big corporation can't do. Plus: the profits go back to the members in the form of patronage refunds instead of going out of state or out of the country. The maximum investment is $300 but you can join today with as little as $30. Register on the site to get email announcements of our next outreach events. Come to our events so you can talk with your neighbors who are making this happen. About ten co-op grocery stores are opening around the country each year. If our community pulls together we can open ours this year! Patrick Reagan http://arroyofoodcoop.com President, board of directors
terry Morris March 06, 2012 at 05:05 PM
I seriously looked into the Lake Avenue Nursery site, for a retail idea I was working on, but there was no way to reconcile those astronomical numbers. Really wanted to start something in Atadena, but am now looking at Pasadena, as close as possible to the Altadena border, so it can still serve this community. So, it sits vacant, month after month. Clearly it is not hurting the owner economically or he would consider lowering the price. It is a really great site with enormous potential. In northern California, businesses thrive in communities with no parking, but they have massive, efficient public transportation, and people are unaccustomed to driving everywhere. Here it seems that lack of parking is a sort of death knell for a business. I am fascinated with Atwater Village. How are they doing it? I stood in line for half an hour for a sublime sandwich and a great cup of coffee, on a non descript street, actually kind of ugly, and it was bustling with activity and new businesses. But their focus is not on TJ, or big box stores. They are starting up small, hip bakeries, restaurants, pet boutiques, yoga studios. Maybe they have different demographics.
Steve Lamb March 06, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Terry- yeah we have a unfortunate confluence of overly aggressive Landlord pricing and out of reality zoning. Together they have made Lake Avenue what it is today. But some good news: I was in Fair Oaks Burger the other day and Christine said several people had come in based on the posts here and become customers! Then she got on and read the posts and agrees (naturally) that one way to help make Altadena more viable is to frequent the places that are here. I had a great combination Chow Mein that night......
Steve Lamb March 06, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Terry- Altadena's demographics are GREAT! BTW. Also, I am refusing to shop in Pasadena, so whatever your business is there, I won't be going. Pasadena has done a great deal to influence the BoS into our present condition,,,,,
terry Morris March 07, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I love altadena's demographics. It is one of the principal reasons i live here. But i wonder what is the be difference between Altadena and atwater village? It is way prettier here , in my opinion, but atwater village is a bustling place, filled with new and interesting places. I drive there for coffee and a sandwich. The energy is young and innovative!!!! It doesn't seem to revolve as much around trader joes, but more around that "artisan" food purveyor. It's in step with what is going on in so many communities all over the country. Less big box, corporate, and more small and local. Maybe it is a younger demographic??
Steve Lamb March 07, 2012 at 02:32 AM
No I dont think its age. thats what Altadenans have been asking for for 30 years. Is Atwater Village La County or LA City?
Steve Lamb March 07, 2012 at 02:33 AM
Just checked. LA City. I think thats a BIG part of the answer.
mister altadena March 07, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Atwater Village Neighborhood Council website http://atwatervillage.org/about claims the following-- Demographics As of the 2000 census, there are 8,042 people in the neighborhood.[citation needed] The makeup of the neighborhood is 48.01% White, 47.90% are Hispanic or Latino, 2.15% African American, 0.66% Native American, 19.09% Asian, 0.20% Pacific Islander, 23.84% from other races, and 6.06% from two or more races. (MY NOTE - these percentages add to way over 100%). Atwater has 12,000 households. About 90% of residences are single-family homes. In 2003, the Atwater Village neighborhood had an estimated 16,000 residents. (MY NOTE - seems like a high # of households compared to 16,000 residents!!) From Wikipedia-- 14,888 people in the neighborhood. It is one of the most highly diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles County, with a population split between 51.3% Hispanic, 19.7% Asian, 1.4% Black, 22.2% White, and 5.4% other.Many of the Asians are Filipinos. There is a high number of people who make $20,000 or less. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atwater_Village
terry Morris March 07, 2012 at 05:05 PM
I wonder what the AGE demographics are? Atwater Village kind of developed as a carryover from Silver Lake and Echo Park. Most of the shoppers I see there are young. They are driving the business. And I think that a lot of young shoppers may be leaving Altadena and Eagle Rock to go to Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, Silver Lake and Echo Park. I do my grocery shopping in Echo Park and Los Feliz. One heck of a drive, but the quality of food is soooo much better, and I am supporting small businesses. Unfortunately, those small businesses are not in my own community. So, is it the county that makes it impossible for the same kind of development to happen here? I know the lack of available buildings, parking and bizarre county rules makes it difficult. One thing that happened there was huge public parking strips running through the shopping districts where allies use to be. If one put in an establishment like Proof Bakery, would the community patronize it? It has seemed to me that in a lot of underdeveloped areas the first business who change the trend are not giant corporate entities, but small, cool businesses. I think focusing on Trader Joes and Ralphs might not be the most productive direction. It's about what kind of small businesses can be attracted to the area.
Lori A. Webster March 13, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Demographics of Altadena per the 2010 census can be found here: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/0601290.html but the salient points are the population - 42,777; the percentage of that population that own homes - 75%, and the median income of that population - $82,000.00 per year. I know these stats because I used them to write our business plan. Everything points to our town being a haven for up and coming small, cool businesses, as Terry points out, so what's the problem? The County can't take the entire blame for nothing happening in Altadena. Steve's right, the landlords MUST be reasonable for there to be any hope of growing strong businesses here. When Scott and I took over in Oct. of 2007, our rent/common area management fees/purchase loan repayment (don't ask) was enormous....just $1,000.00 off what the landlord wants for the nursery building and we have less than 3,000 sq. feet. It broke us and that's why we're struggling today to be that hip, cool store we visioned when we bought in. It's mindset, as well. No, we're not Sierra Madre and we're not Atwater Village.....but we have the potential to be something in Altadena! A town known for it's beauty, hiking, fabulous gelato and its arts, there are tons of reasons people would come here....and ARE coming here. We just need to acknowledge and get busy. The County is listening, now's the time to rewrite those old, pesky Community Standards into something more business friendly!
Steve Lamb March 13, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Amazingly enough, Altadenans are some of the core shoppers and diners in Eagle Rock (Where I see another Altadenan or two every time I am there) Silverlake, Atwater Village (Recently I was at an Art opening where the gallery COPIED Ben MC Gintey's old set up) And Altadena COULD be Sierra Madre, if the COunty kicked in $250,000 a year per 11,000 residents to the Chamber of Commerce like the City of Sierra Madre does to their chamber....Same with Pasadena, they kick in a elephant load of money to the Pasadena Chamber and both of those chambers get free real office space, paid telephones,have directors and staffs with PAID FULL TIME POSITIONS out creating marketing, events, and buzz for their communities. Our chamber gets a free cubicle in a building off the main commercial street.....And thats it. Period. And while there are lots of derisive comments one can (and honestly at times one has) made about our chamber, considering that it gets ZERO money from the local government, its doing great.
Nico March 13, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Have you ever tried Europane bakery in Pasadena (old one on E Colorado) new one also on Colorado farther west? Near, and really good bread etc.
terry Morris March 13, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Yes, I go to Europane a lot. It's great. I also go to Little Flower. Both good, Proof is even better, but sadly none of them are in Altadena. I wish I could eat and by groceries in my own community. I am very grateful for Websters and and Altadena Hardware. At least there are two local businesses I can frequent.
Nico March 14, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Very true. I think in addition to the high rents and County snafus that the very peace and quiet that we love also makes a business harder to sustain. Very few apartments/condos (yay) and large lots with lots of open space. I moved here just for that reason and would not enjoy the density of an Atwater Village or Silver Lake even though it is that very density that makes business thrive. A trade off for sure. You sound like a good person to initiate a creative business though! Me -- too tired and too broke!
terry Morris March 14, 2012 at 03:33 AM
I couldn't live in Atwater Village, either. I love it here in Altadena. I'd love to start a business here, but it is very difficult for all the reasons discussed. Your point about density may be the key, and maybe the amount of young and unmarrieds?
Leslie Aitken March 14, 2012 at 03:47 AM
I think there are many subjects on which we all agree. Those of us who live here love Altadena and living here, there are enough people to shop here, but there aren't enough goods and services to keep people here for an afternoon. Two weekends ago, my teen daughter, a friend of hers and I went to a dance recital in So. Pasadena. After it was over, the three of us discussed where to have lunch. I then realized that within a two mile area, there were four different areas to shop: the Osh Center N. of the Pasadena fwy, the town center radiating from Fair Oaks and Mission, the area surrounding the Vons/Pavillions stores, and the Mission District. The Mission District was closest so we went there and spent a delightful afternoon. We had a great lunch at a sidewalk bistro, my daughter bought a dress for me to remake for the prom at a vintage store, we poked around several other shops including a great yarn shop and ended up getting frozen yogurt. All of us live in Altadena, and both of them (17) talked about how they wish we had a great selection like they have there. Wishes don't make things happen. Action does. LA county is never going to volunteer to give Altadena money to promote businesses. We need to be a city, self governing and using our own sales and property taxes. If the push for that doesn't start now, the situation will continue to deteriorate as it has for the last thirty years.
Revvell March 14, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I keep hearing city, city, city. It was explained to me recently why we'll most likely never become a city ~ MONEY!!! Can we afford law enforcement? That alone will cost more than this town will be willing to pay out! How about a fire department? You expecting to have a volunteer fire department? Who is going to pay for the trucks, rental space, etc? I don't know what Proof Bakery is, but we already have bakeries here in Altadena... one on Lake and one on ... what? Allen? Are they being supported? Super King, although a chain, provides quality conventional produce; Oh Happy Days provides quality organic produce (especially if you purchase fresh say, on Wednesdays. I hear the ethnic store on New York and Allen provides good fare. Yes, I shop at TJ's ... yet, I guess I'm just not a big shopper since I pretty much stay here in Altadena. I do my banking here (as well as the credit union down the street) .. and, if/when I need to go clothes shopping, I do leave Altadena...otherwise, I LOVE Altadena.... and, I think many others do as well and will never support turning it into a city... at least in my... and many of your ...lifetimes. Revvell (Or whatever my real name is) (Uh, that's for YOU Meatloaf!)
terry Morris March 14, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I would hate to see Altadena turned into a city too !!!!! But I am not sure anyone is advocating that. Admittedly shopping is difficult for me. I have a family which means buying a fair amount of goods and food. I try as much as possible to avoid the large corporate chains that have wiped out so much of American small business. There was a time before Target, Office Depot and Trader Joe's. When I was growing up my community was full of small thriving locally owned businesses. My mother bought our meat from the local butcher and grocer, when a small appliance or TV broke we had it repaired at our local repair shop. There was a bakery, a florist, clothing stores. Most people knew the owners by name. I could just call it nostalgia, we need to move on with the times, and get over it, if I didn't see a return to those times going on in so many communities across the country. Maybe one day it will happen here. Maybe not. In the meantime, I will continue to patronize Websters, Happy Days, Steve's Bikes and Pets, eat at Foxes as much as my heart will allow. And I will continue to drive to other communities and at the very least support their local businesses.
Leslie Aitken March 14, 2012 at 10:26 PM
The money needed to become a city is for the INCORPORATION process. The monies for law enforcement, fire department etc. comes from sales taxes and ALL THE PROPERTY TAXES that now go to the county. Altadena would be in charge of Altadena, not the hit and miss whim of LA County. Our Town Council has no authority and no money. The Chamber of Commerce survives on the dues of its members. NO ONE IS IN CHARGE HERE, except Antonovich. He has the budget of some small countries, and what is spent on Altadena? The surrounding cities of Pasadena, La Canada, Sierra Madre, Monrovia, Arcadia, and South Pasadena all have thriving business and shopping areas because there is someone IN CHARGE of attracting businesses to the area because they are cities. Actually we are the only one that is not. Do you think the county WANTS to lose the cash cow of Altadena? Hardly! Why do you think we continue to have a giant hole in the ground next to Ralphs, or the ugly Rite Aid shopping center, or the big unfinished building growing weeds on the corner of Lincoln and Altadena? Because the county doesn't care about how our community looks. And the people who own the properties, just pay the fines for leaving things the way they are! And we get left with the vacant store fronts, vacant lots and run down conditions as our visual surrounding, the county gets the money, we get the ugly.
Revvell March 14, 2012 at 10:55 PM
BUT, you have to have the money in order to start and, Altadena doesn't have it... far as I know. So, y'all can keep wishin' hopin', thinkin' and prayin'.... yet, unless there's a major influx somewhere, I'm thinkin' it ain't gonna happen! Revvell (or, whatever my real name is)
SteveB March 15, 2012 at 12:06 AM
How did East LA get the money to go through the process?
Steve Lamb March 15, 2012 at 12:30 AM
East LA has gone to the first round, they are asking the County redo the study based this time on the kinds of figures and assumptions the Courts have forced them to use in past. So far LAFCO is resisting, so this will probably lead to a needless and expensive lawsuit that East LA will eventually after the better part of a decade, win. In the meantime the County keeps ripping them off.
Steve Lamb March 15, 2012 at 12:34 AM
One of the problems with the whole LAFCO process is that it is abusive by design. there is no standard agreement, no standard split of tax monies, no standard bundle of goods and services. Every single city has to be negotiated with LAFCO even every item of the report and how every item is measured. its a system designed to prevent even very viable cities. I mean la Canada can afford Cityhood but East LA with 500% more industry and a way way way larger tax base and no firezone to protect canT? LOL Its a perversity.
SteveB March 15, 2012 at 12:42 AM
That is not a pleasant picture, but East LA has managed to enter the process somehow - how is the process financed?
Steve Lamb March 15, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Revvell or whatever your real name is- Facts not in evidence. The last time a study was prepared for the League of Women voters (1978) Altadena actually had surplus revenues. That is based on a contract with LACF and LASD to provide the same level of services and a Planning department of our won, we had a 20% surplus! SO "We don't have any money" is a nice chorus for those who say don't want the LASD to be accountable, but its probably not the truth. We don't knwo though because we havn't seen the honest figures since 1979. When LCF became a city it Took four lawsuits for the County to cough up the real actual figures of their real revenue and expenses, so I don't think I'd believe it's a reasonable opinion, based on the experience of others, to take the Counties word for it. they are well known and repeated proven willful liars in these matters.
Steve Lamb March 15, 2012 at 12:45 AM
HEY Lets do a CASH MOB at Fair Oaks Burger sometime.
Steve Lamb March 15, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Steve B- Basically donations and bake sales.
Steve Lamb March 15, 2012 at 12:48 AM
To do the three or four lawsuits pay for the studies its about $400,000 over say six years.
Steve Lamb March 15, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Its brutal and unjust. Oh but the first study where they give you all the lies, i think thats X amount of signatures (WAY more than the number of people who usually vote in local muni type elections and something like 50 g's)
Lori A. Webster April 22, 2012 at 08:17 PM
We'll take investors, Terry! Seriously, though, the trouble is with the current Community Standards, which make it impossible to open a food business. Again, it's very important to join in the visioning effort so we can get those standards rewritten. And Steve makes a great point about our Chamber of Commerce being volunteer only. If we want to create "buzz" about our community, we need avenues to do so, and those avenues cost money.


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